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Hello, Gorgeous
Discover the World of
Scotch Whisky

Zen and the Art of Saké


The Secret Life of Speakeasies
Georg Riedel’s House of Glass
One week,
eight distilleries,
and everything you
think you know
about Scotland
and its whisky
can change.

Highland Story by CAMPER ENGLISH


Photos by DOMINIC AZ BONUCCELLI
Fling
IMBIBE january/FEBRUARY 09 49
I was expecting more mud, I guess. And soot. When I thought about
Scotland, the landscape that came to mind was the barren, slippery hillsides of Braveheart. Now I find
myself in the Highlands, sitting beneath a shady tree in the sunny late afternoon on the grass-covered
shore of the famous river Spey, waving to the gillie as the fishermen pack up for the day. I’m on a weeklong
press tour of eight different whisky distilleries, and as I get up to wander back to my room in the house
depicted on The Macallan’s bottle label, I think that the movies have almost everything about Scotland
dead wrong.

Almost, but not all: On my first morning in Scotland, four to 2007, and the (whisky) Smugglers’ Trails on the Glenlivet
days previous, aside another flowing river on another perfect Estate are owned by the monarchy-stewarded Crown Trust.
spring day, I’d gotten an earful of the true-to-cinema fierce The ancient Celts practiced distillation and called their
protectiveness of the Scottish people. The speaker was Camp- spirit uisge beatha (“Water of Life”), but the first documented
bell Evans, director of government and consumer affairs for record of whisky in Scotland appeared on a tax record in
the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), a trade association 1494. For the next couple hundred years, distillation tech-
made up of representatives from most of the major whisky niques improved and sales picked up as whisky became less
brands. Evans has the tall and hearty commanding presence medicinal and more recreational. But taxation by the Scottish
of a powerful politician—which he is, essentially, because the and then English governments in the early 1700s drove most
SWA’s legal recommendations usually become U.K. (and by whisky distillation underground for the next 150 years—hence
extension, E.U.) law. those historic Smugglers’ Trails. Up to 14,000 illicit stills were
Evans gave my tour group a quick introduction to the being confiscated each year until 1823, when more reasonable
importance of whisky to Scotland’s economy on the outdoor tax laws were passed.
patio of our hotel before joining us in the mini-bus for part of The invention of the column still, which allowed for
the trip. He also explained just how carefully the SWA guards the production of lighter blended whiskies, combined with
its namesake spirit, going so far as to sue any non-scotch that the phylloxera epidemic that destroyed the wine and brandy
displays tartan, Highland imagery, or even words like “Mac-” industries in France in the 1880s, helped scotch whisky gain
or “Glen-” on the label. “We have five lawyers who will sue popularity throughout the U.K. and beyond. By 1909, a defini-
anyone, anywhere in the world,” he announced. “And they tion of scotch whisky was written into law, and the precursor
are assiduous, voracious, and have between 60 and 70 court to the SWA was formed in 1917. Today, the international thirst
cases ongoing at any one time. Our main priority, as far as for whisky—especially in emerging Asian markets—is so huge
our members are concerned, is protecting scotch whisky as a that many whisky makers are spending hundreds of millions
drink that can only come from Scotland.” of pounds on new and expanded distilleries and warehouses
in Scotland.
Behind the scenes, Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya, who

History Lesson in 2007 purchased Whyte and Mackay Company (owner of


The Dalmore, among other brands), is trying to pressure the
Scotch whisky is Scotland’s largest indigenous industry after Scottish government to loosen regulations and allow new
oil and gas and, barring golf, its most famous export. The scotch variants in order to attract younger consumers. He
industry directly employs two percent of the Scottish popu- has proposed the SWA allow the sale of flavored scotch, and
lation (and many more in retail), exports 2.8 billion British even patented the technology for diet whisky in the U.S. But
pounds’ worth of whisky to 200 countries (the U.S. is the Mallya’s attempts seem only to strengthen the SWA’s resolve
largest importer) and saw 1.2 million tourists visiting its dis- to protect scotch’s legal and historical definitions. While you
tilleries last year alone. Scotland’s heritage, industry, whisky can find flavored American whiskey on the market, to the
and natural environment are so intertwined that, during my members of the SWA, the word “scotch” is sacred.
travels, I often lose track of which topic we are discussing “We will not see flavored scotch or energy scotch,” says
and who is in charge of what. The stills at The Macallan were the SWA’s Campbell. “If people wish to drink such drinks,
depicted on the Bank of Scotland 10-pound note from 1995 fine, but they are not scotch.”

50 IMBIBE january/FEBRUARY 09
Campbell Evans of The Scotch Whisky Association
works vigilantly to protect the heritage of scotch.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scotland’s lush barley
fields; barley drying at The Balvenie; barrels outside the
Glenmorangie distillery; the stills of Strathisla.
52 IMBIBE january/FEBRUARY 09
What Scotch Is facilities that do the work for several brands, which specify the
barley variety and peating level, among other things. Though
Scotland is home to nearly 100 active distilleries, more than peat is no longer necessary to dry barley (hot air is piped into
40 of which are open to the public. Though I’ve been to dozens industrial-sized kilns), it’s still often used to impart a smoky
of other distilleries in other countries, it takes me a few visits flavor to the barley and resulting whisky. Way back when, all
before I understand some of the subtleties of the process here scotch whiskies had an intensely peat-smoke flavor profile,
in Scotland. which was diluted with added column-distilled spirits in
Scotch whisky starts with the barley that’s grown all blended whiskies; today, even some single-malts don’t have
over the countryside. To entice the grain to release sugars any peat smoke at all.
that are fermented into alcohol, it is first steeped in water Touring eight distilleries, I find the production differ-
until it’s about to sprout, then dried. The result is called ences between them fairly minor until I see the still rooms,
malted barley. At one time, each distillery malted its own where the contrasts are more dramatic. The shape of the pot
barley onsite, spreading it out over a large floor and hand- still is considered as essential an element in a new whisky’s
turning it with a shovel for several days. Peat, the compressed, flavor as the barley, water and yeast that go into it. Towering
partially decayed vegetal matter that forms in wetlands (like stills, such as the ones at Glenmorangie, produce light-bodied,
a softer version of coal) was burned underneath the malting more floral whiskies. Squat stills with shorter necks, like those
at Oban, produce heavier, oilier, stronger-flavored spirits.
Once distilled, the new-make spirit is aged for a
minimum of three years, but usually 10 or more, before being
Know Your Scotch bottled as a single-malt scotch with an age statement on the
label. Most scotch is aged in old bourbon barrels, thanks to
Single-Malt Scotch Whisky: Distilled at a single distillery from
U.S. laws requiring barrels for bourbon to be used only once.
water and malted barley without the addition of any other
These are sold relatively cheaply to Scotland and other coun-
cereals, and by batch distillation in pot stills.
tries for aging. In recent years, many whisky brands (follow-
ing the success of Glenmorangie’s experiments) have released
Single-Grain Scotch Whisky: Distilled at a single distillery from
products aged partially in Port, Madeira, Cognac and other
water and malted barley, but possibly with whole grains of
wine and brandy barrels, which impart a little of their former
other cereals added in.
contents’ character into the whisky. These are not considered
flavored whiskies, though; they’re usually called “finished” or
Blended Scotch Whisky: A blend of one or more single-malt
“additionally matured” in these other casks.
scotch whiskies with one or more single-grain scotch whiskies.
Single-malt whiskies—those coming from a single dis-
tillery made from 100 percent malted barley—grab much of
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky: A blend of single-malt scotch
the public’s attention, yet they account for just 12 percent of
whiskies, distilled at more than one distillery. (This category is
scotch whisky sales in the U.S. Most of the rest are blended
often referred to as “vatted malt” or “pure malt.”)
scotch whiskies, made up of more neutral column-distilled
grain (corn, wheat, unmalted barley) spirits plus one or more
Blended Grain Scotch Whisky: A blend of single-grain scotch
single-malts to provide depth of flavor.
whiskies, distilled at more than one distillery.
These blended brands also host visitors’ centers, usually
located at a single-malt distillery that influences the blend’s
flavor profile, such as Chivas’s center at the gorgeous Strathisla
distillery in Speyside or the Dewar’s World of Whisky at the
floor to dry out the barley and stop germination. The iconic Aberfeldy distillery in the Highlands (where I had fun playing
gray pagodas atop most scotch distilleries are not just an aes- with Dewar’s guess-that-smell machine).
thetic choice; they are hoods used to recirculate the hot air
and smoke within the barley drying rooms.
The malting process is space- and labor-intensive, so only
a handful of distilleries still have operating malting floors—
Whisky Regions
and most of them do it primarily as a show for tourists, pur- Regional preferences for peating levels are one of the main
chasing outside malt to meet the bulk of their demand. (Only differentiators between whisky styles of the five appellations
the small Springbank distillery in Campbeltown malts all of in Scotland, though stylistic crossovers are increasingly
its barley on site.) Today most barley is malted at large-scale common. The most heavily peated whiskies generally come

IMBIBE january/FEBRUARY 09 53
from Islay (pronounced “EYE-luh”), an island off the south-
west coast that hosts eight distilleries—including Ardbeg,
Bowmore, Bruichladdich and Laphroaig—with one more, Port
Charlotte, under construction. Nearby in Campbeltown, just
three distilleries remain in operation out of the dozens once
located there before the area’s economic decline more than
100 years ago, with whisky from this region largely similar to
that from Islay.
Islay whiskies tend to be pungent with peat smoke,
iodine and brine flavors. They are macho scotches, reflect-
ing the rugged landscape, salty air and maritime peat of the
island. These whiskies have a cultish following among con-
sumers, and it’s a very big cult.
Mainland Scotland is split into the Lowland and High-
land regions, with the Speyside appellation a subsection of the
northern Highlands along the tributaries to the Spey River.
The Lowlands holds five active distilleries (producing whisky
often described as sweet, light and gentle), in the Highlands
there are more than 30 (these whiskies tend to yield a light
smoky or peaty element and flavors ranging from heathery
and spicy to fruity) and the Speyside region holds another 50
(with gentle, elegant and refined whiskies). Many of the best-
selling whiskies come from Speyside, including Glenfiddich
and The Glenlivet.
Driving north from Edinburgh in the Lowlands, through
the Highlands and Speyside regions, takes a traveler past
endless fields of grass and sheep, Highland cattle with blond

Hulla Baloo bangs falling into their eyes, thick forests in dozens of shades
of green, and medieval-looking stone villages around every
Jason Scott calls this drink “a wee cheeky tip o’ the hat to the kitsch other bend in the road. Castles rise out of earth like storybook
classic, the Banana Daiquiri.” images come to life.
The differences in climate, vegetation and resulting
2 oz. Glenfiddich 12 flavor between maritime and inland whiskies are quite dra-
1 oz. fresh banana and cinnamon puree (see below) matic, but even within smaller regions people wax poetic
V oz. fresh lime juice about how the particular landscape is reflected in the local
V oz. vanilla sugar syrup (see below) spirit. Iain Kennedy is a senior global brand director with
Ice cubes Bacardi-owned whiskies like Aberfeldy, which sits in what’s
Tools: shaker, strainer sometimes called “the heart of Scotland” in the southernmost
Glass: coupe slice of the Highlands. That’s where I meet him, and where he
Garnish: 3 overlapping slices of banana gestures as he says, “There is a terroir at these distilleries. The
soft, plush rolling hills and fresh clean air can be found in the
Pour all ingredients into shaker and shake rapidly. Double strain soft, round, honey taste of the whisky.”
into a glass and garnish.

To make the puree, blend 1 ripe banana, 2 ounces water and half
a barspoon of powdered cinnamon into a smooth consistency.
City Sipping
Remember, you can’t taste cinnamon, you can only smell it. The Back in Edinburgh, despite my preconceived notions of a
spice is there for aroma only. sooty, depressing city (once again, I’ve been misinformed by
a movie—this time, Trainspotting), I find a mix of magnificent
To make vanilla sugar syrup, combine 1 pound of white granulated gothic buildings and stylish shopping boutiques, restaurants
sugar, 1 pint of water and 1 split vanilla pod in a saucepan. Bring to and nightclubs. Picture Hogwarts Academy mixed with San
boil, remove from heat and allow to cool.  Diego’s Gaslamp District and you’ve pretty much got it.
Continued on p.59
Jason Scott, Bramble, Edinburgh

54 IMBIBE january/FEBRUARY 09
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Oloroso’s
Humberto Marques; venison and
scotch are a perfect pair at Minmore
House; mixing scotch cocktails at Tonic
Bar; the back bar at Bramble.
Scotch Mist
Sam Kershaw has left his native Scotland for
the bustle of New York City, but he crafted this
cocktail for Edinburgh’s Tonic before he moved.

2 oz. Chivas 12-year-old blended scotch whisky


V oz. St. Germain liqueur
V oz. maraschino liqueur
V oz. honey syrup (honey diluted 1:1
with water)
2 dashes Fee Brothers Barrel Aged Bitters
Ice cubes
Tools: barspoon, mixing glass, strainer
Glass: old fashioned
Garnish: orange twist and rye-soaked cherry

Stir ingredients in mixing glass, strain into a


glass with a large ice cube and garnish.

Created by Sam Kershaw for Tonic in Edinburgh

56 IMBIBE january/FEBRUARY 09
12 Scotches To Try
Scotch-hopping
With more than 40 distilleries open to visitors, decid-
ing which ones to visit can be a tad daunting: Is it like
the California wine country in the high season, with
overflowing parking lots and packed tasting rooms full of
bachlorette weekenders? Thankfully not, say locals. Many
visitors’ centers refuse large tour busses, and traffic never
gets tight except around the northern tip of Loch Ness.
The off-peak months of May and September are better
than July or August, as the weather is good but you’ll
avoid families vacationing on summer break.

Information for most of the distilleries’ hours and prices


can be found on scotch-whisky.org.uk. Some distilleries
are open for tours by appointment only, so do your home-
work before getting in the car.

• Distilleries offer different levels of tours, with addi-


tional tastings for increased admission fees. You may
have to make a reservation for a deluxe tour.
• A few distilleries, including Bruichladdich and Spring-
bank, offer multiple-day whisky schools where stu-
dents do everything from harvest peat to select barrels
for blending.
• Don’t want to drive? Many single- or multi-day tours
(look for ones with low maximum numbers of passen-
gers) are linked from scotlandwhisky.com.
• Feis Ile, the Islay Festival of Malt and Music, brings
thousands of people to the island at the end of May
each year. Hotel rooms sell out early.
feis.streamlinenettrial.co.uk
• The Spirit of Speyside Festival in 2009 is being
extended to 10 days of events in May.
spiritofspeyside.com
• 2009 is promoted as “Scotland Homecoming Year” for
visitors with Scottish heritage in honor of the 250th
anniversary of poet Robert Burns’s birth.
homecomingscotland2009.com
• With seven distilleries in Speyside’s Dufftown, you can
walk to many of them and establish a home base for
driving to others. Towns Keith, Rothes and Aberlour are
also close by in the Speyside region and surrounded by
plenty of distilleries.
• The Speyside Cooperage, where they assemble or
repair 100,000 casks a year, is worth a stop for its
“acorn to cask” exhibit. Tourists can try creating a mini
cask or watch the coopers working.
• The Macallan hosts the engaging Wood Experience
exhibit, showing the types of barrels used, the colors
wood can impart, how barrels are made, and the
biology of wood interaction with the spirit.
• Dewar’s World of Whisky at the Aberfeldy distillery
has a nice exhibit on blending, as well as a single-malt
distillery tour.
Robin Wood
Humberto Marques says he was looking for a spirit to complement
the flavor of malt whisky in a drink similar to a Manhattan or Rob
Roy, and he found Madeira to be a perfect match.

2 oz. Auchentoshan 10 Year


V oz. Madeira
V oz. Aperol
1 tsp. Grand Marnier
3 drops orange bitters
Ice cubes
Tools: barspoon, mixing glass, strainer
Glass: cocktail
Garnish: orange twist and raisins

Stir ingredients in a mixing glass, double strain into a glass and


garnish.

Created by Humberto Marques for Oloroso in Edinburgh


12 Scotches to Try
SINGLE-MALTS
Ardbeg 10-Year
In the countryside, even the smallest bar seems to have
A smoky, peaty scotch with a chewy mouthfeel and a
dozens of single-malt whiskies crammed haphazardly onto
lingering finish. Region: Islay, $$
shelves and carts, which the locals mostly drink neat—a
little soda or ginger ale is about as fancy as the mixing gets.
Auchentoshan 21-Year
Edinburgh is also full of venerable old wood-and-brass pubs
This refined and balanced single-malt combines notes of
serving little more than beer and whisky, but along the busy
fruit, bread and honey. Region: Lowland, $$$$$
shopping area on George Street in the New Town district, the
ultra-modern cocktail bars and restaurants reflect mixologi-
The Balvenie 12-Year Double Wood
cal influences from London and New York.
A bourbon-lover’s scotch. Velvety smooth with perfectly
And while the makers of scotch whisky are intensely pro-
balanced layers of vanilla, honey and spice.
tective of their native drink, the people and pouring and con-
Region: Speyside, $
suming it in Edinburgh are a cheerfully international lot. “It’s a
multi-cultural industry,” says the Australian-born Jason Scott,
BenRiach “Curiositas,” 10-Year
general manager of Bramble, a basement lounge chosen as one
Bold peatiness is balanced by softer layers of vanilla and
of the U.K.’s best bars by the London-based newspaper The
honey. Region: Speyside, $$$
Observer. “We have an Aussie, a Scotsman, an Englishman of
Asian descent, a Kiwi and a lass who’s half-Cuban, half-Scot.”
Bowmore 16-Year Wine Cask Matured
Far from diminishing authenticity, argues Scott, his crew’s
This peaty yet fruity scotch is aged in both bourbon
United Nations flair “keeps things interesting for the punters,”
casks and Bordeaux wine casks. Region: Islay, $$$$$
especially since those “punters” are a cosmopolitan lot them-
selves: Scott says his customers, mostly in their 20s and 30s,
Edradour Un-Chillfiltered Signatory
tend to be wealthy college students and young financial indus-
A full and rich single-malt with layers of caramel and
try employees from London and other parts of Europe.
butter. Region: Highland, $$$
Portugal-born Humberto Marques has worked in his
native country and in the south of France, and he is now a
Glenfiddich 21-Year Gran Reserva
cocktail consultant and the bar manager at Oloroso, a swing-
Four months of resting in rum barrels gives this whisky a
ing fourth-floor restaurant with fantastic view of Edinburgh.
buttery richness with notes of molasses and coffee and
Here, he creates drinks mixed by bartenders whose concen-
hint of spice. Region: Highland, $$$$$
tration and precision with droppers, strainers and measure-
ments is either impressive or a sign of neurosis. Either way,
The Glenlivet Nàdurra 16-Year
the results are heavenly.
Robust and herbaceous with a creamy mouthfeel and
Such precision cocktail-making is also on display at the
notes of vanilla and spice. Region: Speyside, $$
tiny bar Tonic, where bartenders outfitted in vests and ties
hand-crack ice, use a large selection of bitters, and craft house-
The Macallan Fine Oak 15-Year
made syrups and rye-soaked maraschino cherries to serve in
Loads of honey and fruit, particularly ripe banana, mingle
the drinks. On the menu at Tonic and most other cocktail
in this velvety, balanced scotch. Region: Speyside, $$$
bars in Edinburgh, the vast majority of the drinks on the
menu call for white spirits—especially white rum—instead
BLENDS
of the local whisky. “[Rum is] a little sweeter than scotch or
Chivas 18-Year
even bourbon, so I think it’s an easy way out when mixing,”
This scotch has a lot going on, with layers of fruit,
explains Scott.
chocolate and toffee and a touch of peat. $$$
All the scotch cocktails I had in the city were made well,
even if there weren’t that many of them, and while mixing
Compass Box ASYla
with scotch can be challenging, it’s certainly doable. “You
A blend of Linkwood, Cameron Bridge and Cambus
just need to know your product,” says Scott. “You have to
(the latter two are grain whiskies) resulting in a
appreciate the varying flavors from the different regions and
well-balanced marriage of vanilla, honey and fruit. $
distilleries.” There’s yet to be a movie made that can help you
do that.
Johnnie Walker Black Label
A well-balanced blend with notes of pepper, vanilla and
smoke and a smooth, lengthy finish. $

$—$30–$45 $$—$46–$60 $$$—$61–$80


$$$$—$81–$100 $$$$$—$100+

IMBIBE january/FEBRUARY 09 59